We hopped back into the Yota and turned to travel down a Not Recommended road. I’m gripping the steering wheel with both hands, doing a 10 and 2 like a fourteen-year-old in his mom’s minivan for the first time. Leaning forward as if it actually did a darn bit of good trying to see over the hood. Both windows are down, foot on the brake. I eased around the first corner and my first thought wasn’t what I planned for it to be.
My first thought was, “I bought a 4×4 for this?” How to explain the mix of relief and disappointment I felt as I gently rolled down that recently graded dirt road? The drive up to Kat’s mountaintop compound after a gentle rain is more rigorous than this. I kept her in L4 really, just because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Well, okay, it was still a county road down the mountain. Still a little steep. Maybe a rock here or there. I think one dip in the road. I got a chance to put the Yota through a bit of a run a few hours later, but that’s for Part 3 I think. (and still before the helicopters)
Parked at the bottom at the Cecil Cove Loop trailhead. Got to show off a few of the secret compartments in my new truck (did I mention I got a new truck?). Packs up, off we go. Kat was near giddy on that first part of the trail. Hell or High Water, we were going to find Thunder Canyon Falls. They filled me in on the past few failed trips. It isn’t that the falls are particularly difficult to find, especially not for this crew. It was that we tend to hike with kids. The last couple of times they attempted to find the falls – they had little ones in tow. Real little ones. And when the little guys are done, the hike is done. This time, no little ones. Just us manly men. Item one on the weekend agenda was finding the falls.
Maybe a mile, mile and a half in, we came to a newly formed beaver dam. Grap, being the scientist he is, was probably the happiest of we three stooges. A few dry crossings later, we came upon a beautiful rock wall. We didn’t know it, but we had far overshot our turn to go find the falls. This looked like as good a place as any to start exploring so we stashed the packs, grabbed a water bottle and the cameras, and headed off.
A half-hour or so of bushwhacking later, Grap called it a wrong turn and we doubled back. Found the right turn and headed off into the most beautiful area I’ve ever seen. It has been pretty dry lately, so we didn’t expect much. Not more than a trickle, really, but the power and artistry of water and time were evident. We slipped and slid, crossing over the little chasm frequently . . . convinced we were on the right trail.
And we were. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Kat or Grap so happy. They laughed, hugged, woo-hoo’d and did everything but dance. The waterfall wasn’t thundering, just a gentle trickle into a nearly perfect circular pool of turquoise water. It was clear and cold and deep. And cold. Very cold. Mind numbing cold. Brain freeze cold. (Too soon?)
Even though it was December 1st, the weather was unseasonably warm. High 60’s, maybe even up to 70 by the time we arrived at Thunder Canyon Falls. It was 11:30, approximately. Beautiful blue sky. I won’t speculate as to who suggested this first. There’s video evidence that I was the first to jump in, though, so no way I can shuck that blame. We’re all of us unapologetic waterfall jumpers. Wet hikers, we three unwise men. Cameras were ledged, socks were protected and shoes set aside. I stripped down to a pair of spandex shorts and my hiking shirt. (Wasn’t a pretty sight for anyone.) The other two idiots stripped down to their shorts.
On the video, you can see me trying to buy time with braggadocio. Pointing at Kat and declaring that I am no longer a follower! I shall lead (in this foolishness). I slip and mostly fell into the water. Went under completely and came up screaming. It was cold. Mere words are insufficient, so I will attempt to describe it in haiku.
cold cold cold cold cold
I can’t seem to stop screaming
cold cold cold cold cold
I drag myself out of the frigid mistake only to see Kat jump in feet-first. He went into a deeper section and comes up hollering, too. By this time, my body is so confused that the cold sensation has been replaced by a warm burning feeling all over my body. I stand there, shivering, and laughing with maniacal joy. Grap, the comparatively wise patriarch of our band of fools, can be heard on the video saying something to the effect of, “I must be out of my mind.” He then slid into the pool and came up with an entirely new vocabulary.
That should have been enough. But, oh no. I had to go in again. Which meant they had to go in again. Great fun was had by all. Kat took the picture below. Grap was looking up at the canyon, the echo of our laughter was still bouncing around the canyon. I had moved on about fifty yards down the trail, trying to get my body warmed up again through motion. That photo should be titled Essence of Grap. He’s thinking, in that picture, that this is the most beautiful place he’s ever seen. He’s always wanted to see this.
By our best guess, this is the point where things got strange. Right after that, they got real urgent and scary.